By Michael Baadke
If you like to look at stamps before you buy them but there isn't a retail stamp store near you, you're not out of luck.
Buying stamps on approval means a dealer mails you a selection of stamps that you can examine within a reasonable amount of time.Many collectors shop for stamps in their own homes by subscribing to an approvals service.
The dealer also includes price information so you know the cost of the stamps.
You decide if you would like to buy some of the stamps and send payment to the dealer for the stamps you are purchasing. At the same time, you also mail back the stamps that you do not wish to buy.
Collectors need to watch for the word "approvals" in any stamp-related advertising. By responding to an offer that includes approvals, the collector accepts responsibility for stamps sent to him and agrees to the terms of the approvals offer.
Collectors are not required to buy any stamps from the approvals offer, but the dealer will quickly terminate the service if no purchases are made.
After all, it is costly and time-consuming for the dealer to prepare approvals and send them out, and he has a right to expect the collector to make purchases from the selections he sends.
Advertisements and offers for stamp approvals can be found in many places. In the pages of Linn's Stamp News, there are two principal areas where approvals ads appear.
Display advertising can be found throughout each week's paper, and some display ads include an offer for stamp approvals.
Many dealers provide a special introductory offer of free stamps or a specially priced set of stamps to encourage collectors to try their approvals service.
A fictional offer for stamp approvals is shown in Figure 1. Notice that the offer of 100 worldwide stamps for $1 is dependent upon the collector agreeing to try the approvals service.
Several categories of stamp approvals offers also appear each week in Linn'sclassified advertising pages.
A list of the various categories, taken from the Linn's index of classifications, is reproduced in Figure 2.
You'll find a great variety of options among the approvals advertisements.
Many dealers solicit want lists or offer personalized selections. When a dealer states that he accepts want lists, he is inviting the collector to submit a list of stamps that he is looking for.
The dealer will then try to include those stamps with the selection that he sends.
If the dealer is unable to fill the want list, he may send similar items that he thinks may be of interest to the collector.
The collector can expect similar service from the dealer offering personalized selections. The collector describes his collecting interests and the dealer considers those interests when preparing the selection he sends to the collector.
For example, the collector who is interested in postally used stamps from Scandinavia may request that kind of selection from the approvals dealer. If the dealer is unable to service a requested collecting area, he will usually let the collector know.
Some dealers' ads describe specific areas that they specialize in.
The stamps may be sent in a variety of formats, often depending upon the dealer or the type of stamps that are being offered.
Figure 3, for example, shows single stamps and sets packaged in glassine envelopes. The dealer often sends several envelopes at once, and the collector chooses the items he may be interested in purchasing.
Some approvals dealers send larger packets filled with stamps that all sell for the same price, say 5¢ apiece. The dealer may offer a special price if the collector wants to purchase the entire packet.
Another standard way for dealers to present approvals is hinged into an approvals booklet, as shown in Figure 4. This method is most often seen with postally used stamps.
Each stamp is identified on the booklet page by a catalog number and a selling price. Sometimes a dealer will send a booklet filled with stamps that all sell for the same price, say 5¢ each.
In such a case, the collector chooses as many stamps as he likes for 5¢ each and returns the rest to the dealer with his payment for the stamps he bought.
As you look over advertisements for approvals, keep in mind the type of stamps you would like to see. When contacting the approvals dealer, find out a few basic facts.
Sometimes the dealer offers to pay return postage for the stamps. Otherwise, the collector is the one responsible for the return postage costs.
It's important to know how long the dealer allows you to examine the stamps before you return them. Most approvals dealers prefer a reply between 10 and 30 days, so find out what your dealer expects and make sure you return his stamps within the allotted period.
Some approvals dealers sell a lot of stamps that are canceled-to-order, or CTO.
Such stamps are unused but are printed with a cancel to make them invalid for postage.
For an example of this, look at the Russian stamps shown at the bottom of Figure 5. The two stamps at left have identical cancels, clear and sharp, very neatly covering just the corner of the stamp.
This is typical of CTO stamps, although one might encounter a cancel like that on postally used stamps from time to time.
The third stamp in the illustration is shown face down because CTO stamps almost always have full gum on the back, as they were never postally used.
Some collectors enjoy CTO stamps because the cancels are very neat and the design is easy to see. Often, CTOs are priced for less than stamps that have been used to carry mail.
Other collectors do not like adding CTOs to their collections because they prefer canceled stamps that were actually used on mail.
The fictional ad in Figure 1 points out that the dealer sells "No CTO" as well as "No Dunes" and "No Iron Curtain."
"Dunes" refers to stamps of several Arab shiekhdoms that were produced in enormous quantities during the 1960s. These stamps are intentionally left out of some of the major worldwide catalogs.
"Iron Curtain" refers to stamps of the Eastern European countries that were under the Soviet sphere of influence until the end of the last decade. Some collectors prefer to avoid such stamps because many were CTO or issued in great quantities.
If you start an approvals service and later decide that it's time to end the relationship, just send a note to the dealer thanking him and explaining that you wish to terminate the service.
Approvals services give collectors a chance to get a good look at stamps on a regular basis and build up their collections.
Collectors who are interested should look over the advertisements carefully and then choose a dealer who will best suit their needs.